Random thoughts on selling

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by Al Wahnon

The salesperson is usually—and the operative word here is usually— extraverted, eloquent, persistent, persuasive, personable and indefatigable. Selling is a broad category. People who sell to live are employees. People who live to sell are salesmen and saleswomen. They are recognizable by their zeal and passion and, most of all, their accomplishments. They are indomitable, resilient and relentless; they are undaunted, they bounce back and they never stop.

How do you define selling? Some say it’s an art and the way creative salespeople turn an ordinary day into a special event makes the case. Others say it’s a craft, a discipline that can be honed and brought to perfection by training and commitment. And then there are those who believe it’s a birthright, embedded in the DNA, perhaps a legacy from a gifted progenitor. All three could be right. But, no matter how you define it, selling is the engine that drives commerce and moves the economy forward.

Always in awe of salespeople, I marvel at their ability to persevere and, more of- ten than not, triumph. They operate with unwavering efficiency in all climates— friendly, neutral and hostile. I asked my good friend, a superlative sales executive, what is the single most important piece of advice you can offer a novice salesperson? He paused a moment and said, “People may forget what you say. People may forget what you do. But they will never forget how you made them feel.” He went on to explain that the average salesperson has 30 seconds or less to gain the attention of prospective customers and establish a reason for them to engage in a conversation. When that is accomplished, you’re ready to begin the all-important phase of making your relationship a memorable one—for the customer.

Show prospects you understand their problems. People want to know how much you care before they care how much you know. When they feel you understand their problems, fears, challenges and goals, they listen—making it easier to develop a rapport and achieve the ultimate aim of their “not forgetting how you made them feel.” To begin, don’t talk price; the faltering economy has far too many business people intently focused on price. More pertinent are value, beauty and need. Value makes price palatable, beauty adds garnish and need makes it digestible. Set your table with concern as the appetizer, trust as the entrée and price as dessert, after the palate is cleansed with a dollop of satisfaction-sorbet. The centerpiece should be your product or service.

Discussing sales and selling with my friend is always enlightening, and he is extravagant with his advice, sharing selflessly. I asked him what employers are looking for in their search for competent, productive salespeople. What proclivities, skills and attributes do they value most? There are many, he said, too numerous to mention here but let me give you a few: Creativity—they want innovative people who bring a fresh perspective. Discipline—this includes the ability to stay on task and complete projects without becoming bored or distracted. Drive— they want high aspiration levels and relentless pursuit of goals. Optimism—a positive attitude is an essential ingredient of productivity and success.

There are a half dozen more, he said, but I’ll end it with Savvy—not just about job knowledge, but knowledge of coworkers, customers and the work environment. This is an intangible quality, a sixth sense, reminiscent of the wise kid on the block we defined as having “street smarts.” Yeah, savvy is right up there with ability. Like love and marriage or a horse and carriage—you can’t have one without the other. And he left humming that tune.

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